The Issue of Child Sexual Abuse

What is child sexual abuse?

According to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), child sexual abuse is defined as: The employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or assist any other person to engage in, any sexually explicit conduct or simulation of such conduct for the purpose of producing a visual depiction of such conduct; or the rape, and in cases of caretaker or interfamilial relationships, statutory rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children. Sexual abuse can be hands on (molestation or assault) or hands off (showing children pornography or creating child pornography).

Who is at risk?

1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will become a victim of child sexual abuse before their 18th birthday.

1 in 5 children who touches a computer will be sexually solicited online.

Child sexual abuse occurs at every socioeconomic level, across ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions and at all levels of education.

But 95% of this abuse is preventable through education and awareness – and with guidance and support, victims can heal into thriving survivors. 

Who offends?

“Stranger danger” does not usually apply – 90% of the time a child is assaulted, it is by someone they know, love and trust.

The first stage of child sexual abuse can be a series of subtle behaviors and statements, which is referred to as “grooming.” The grooming process allows predators to desensitize children, preparing them to be tricked into sexual abuse by testing and violating boundaries and secret-keeping. Children most at risk for grooming are children who have experienced a degree of emotional, social or economic disadvantage. Predators also groom families and organizations by building trust and working to appear as a positive, friendly and helpful person in the child’s life.

Watch grooming and pedophile tactics video.

Tactics of the perpetrator

  • Paying attention to a child who appears emotionally needy
  • “Accidentally” or purposefully exposing themselves
  • Coming out of the bath, wearing shorts that allow a view of the genitals, openly praising nudity as “normal,” etc.
  • Giving gifts or money, taking the child places, providing alcohol or drugs
  • Engaging in physical contact such as wrestling, tickling, pats on the butt, etc.
  • Showing adult magazines or films, letting the child know he/she can come to them for sexual information or concerns
  • Telling the child that he/she needs to examine the child’s body for some reason
  • Asking questions about the child’s sexual development, fantasies, masturbation habits, or giving the child more information about sex than is appropriate for the child’s age or developmental level
  • Staring at the child or looking at his/her body in a way that makes him/her uncomfortable.

Signs a child may be a victim of sexual abuse

  • Child does not want to be around certain adults
  • Child suddenly acquires new unexplainable toys, money, clothes
  • Regressive behaviors (thumb sucking, bed wetting)
  • Fear of previously enjoyed people and places
  • Acting out or engaging in delinquent behaviors
  • Sexualized behavior
  • Child becomes anxious or depressed
  • Pain when sitting, riding a bike, or using the restroom

How to Support Upon Disclosure

  • 75% of child victims of sexual abuse do not disclose within a year of their abuse.
  • 45% of child victims keep their abuse a secret for at least five years.
  • Many stay silent for decades, and some never tell.

How to Respond to Disclosure of Child Sexual Abuse

An adult’s reaction to disclosure plays an important role in the beginning of the healing process for the child. Resist the urge to react strongly to the news or display anger toward the abuser.

Instead, consider:

“I believe you.”

“I’m really glad that you told me. It took a lot of courage to tell me.”

“It’s not your fault.”

“We will work together to get you help. I will need to tell some other people who help protect children.”

How do I report suspected abuse?

Upon a child’s disclosure of abuse, adults are morally – and in many cases, legally – required to make a report. If you suspect a child has is a victim of sexual abuse and is in immediate danger, call 911. Otherwise, make a report to your local abuse reporting agency or by calling 1-800-4-A-CHILD (224453).

Child sexual abuse facts and stats